Short fiction is the lifeblood of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s where we first encountered many authors who have gone on to win awards and write some of our favorite novels. This new monthly column will highlight some of the most notable short SFF published in the prior month, and hopefully introduce you to your next favorite author.
There’s a staggering amount of fabulous speculative short fiction being published every month—online, in print, and in audio—introducing the world to exciting new voices in the genre. This roundup can only capture a tiny fraction of it, of course (at least until I acquire a horde of clones that can do the reading and writing for me), but I hope to offer a tasty sample of the range, depth, and variety of it that is available out there. Here are 10 stories that stood out in January 2018.
“Black Fanged Thing,” by Sam Rebelein in Shimmer
This story, about a seemingly ordinary small town and its seemingly ordinary inhabitants, is eerie and unsettling from the first paragraph. It masterfully captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a place, in a life, that isn’t quite what you wanted…except that the characters in this story aren’t quite sure what else they did want, once upon a time. I love the chilling sense of an unseeable, unknowable darkness lurking beneath the surface of everyday life. To me, this story brings to mind both Ray Bradbury and The Twilight Zone.
“The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls,” by Senaa Ahmad in Strange Horizons
A mesmerizing blend of history (it was partly inspired by the real events that befell the so-called Radium Girls), fantasy, politics, science, and science fiction, this story is heartbreaking, fierce, and moving. I especially love how Ahmad explores and intertwines the complex relationship between the girls — all chosen for their rather frightening super power — and the brutal politics of war in which a government is using them as weapons.
“A World to Die For,” by Tobias S. Buckell in Clarkesworld
Buckell’s post-apocalyptic tale pops off the page, vivid and visceral, with the texture and fury of a Mad Max movie (and I mean that as a sincere compliment). There’s a blighted but still recognizable U.S. landscape, there are gangs of road-warriors, there are weapons galore, there is dust and death; reading it, I could almost feel the road grit between my teeth and hear the roar of the engines. And then, then, Buckell fishtails the whole thing around into something else, somewhere else. I won’t reveal the twist, but this is a story with both nerve and heart.
“Bondye Bon,” by Monique L. Desir in Fiyah
Fiyah has been around for just over a year now, publishing great speculative fiction by black writers, and it has quickly become one of my must-read zines. Like many of the stories in Fiyah, Desir’s latest does not pull any punches. It has zombies, alternate history, magic, religion, a black woman getting revenge on a slave owner, and a young girl facing the monster in her mother’s room. It crackles with fire and purpose, and one moment in particular, a scene of a slave uprising during which a desperate prayer is suddenly heard, that gave me goosebumps all over.
“In Her Bones,” by Lindiwe Rooney in The Dark
Harsh realities of crime, corruption, abuse, and sexual assault (though it’s mostly dealt with “off-screen”) gives this horror story a real darkness, because let’s face it, few things are scarier than the things human beings do to each other. But the deeper, soul-shaking power of the tale is what happens after the abuse, and after the victim, Ayanda, exacts her own justice on the perpetrator. Rooney’s descriptions of the power of family ties, and the power of magic, intertwine in a stunning scene of transformation when Ayanda has to pay the price for what she did. It’s a fierce story that doesn’t go where you might think, and gives you an ending that is simultaneously crushing and hopeful.
“Shadows and Bells,” by Mari Ness in Kaleidotrope
In exquisitely beautiful prose, Ness weaves a tale about what happens in the realm of the dead when the Queen of Death hears the bells ring. Every sentence is gorgeously shaped and polished. Myth and fantasy, fairy tale and reality, combine to create a deeply moving story about death and life, love and longing, and making choices that change everything—even who and what you are. A dark, gleaming gem of a story.
“To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit,” by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley in Apex
Some stories, like this one, hit so hard they’re like a gut-punch, so hard you think they might leave a bruise. Kingsley paints a scene that is phantasmagoric in its detailed, visceral horror, with pregnant women hanging from the gallows, people buying and selling human lives, and unborn children used to fuel a horrific, scientific ritual. But even in this terrible place there is resistance, and maybe even a sliver of hope.
“When the Bough Breaks,” by Jaymee Goh in Mythic Delirium
I love a good ghost story, and this is a really good ghost story. It’s set in a brand new, modern condominium complex in Malaysia. After moving in, the children (though not the adults) living in the building soon realize that something is stalking them, haunting them, and even killing them. Goh expertly builds the tension throughout the story, all the way to the spine-chilling ending.
“Those We Feed,” by Layla Al-Bedawi in Fireside Fiction
A powerful and deeply unsettling flash fiction story about a mother and child. The imagery is raw and evocative enough to make you wince at times, but the story is also a piercing and perceptive look at the darker side of parenthood (and maybe other relationships as well), and at how much of ourselves we sometimes give up to care for those we love.
“Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl,” by Rebecca Mix in Flash Fiction Online
I have a weak spot for fantasy, dragons, and strong-willed girls. (I mean, who doesn’t?) This flash fiction story by Rebecca Mix features all of these things, and I love it for its sense of humor, its verve and fire, its vivid prose, and its perfect ending. A delectable slice of excellent flash.
What short stories have you loved this month?